Cisco Storage Buying Guide

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A decade or so back, Cisco was all about networking. Now, it is one of the leading players in the storage world as well. It wisely extended its network switch expertise into storage switches, and it has expanded its storage portfolio steady every since.

Cisco’s current thrust is manifested in the Cisco Unified Fabric strategy. In brief, Cisco makes it possible to mix and match items from its various storage product lines, which harness the same command lines and GUI operations to perform SAN functions. Unified Fabrics consist of the Cisco MDS family and the Cisco Nexus family.

“When there is a conversation around Cisco and storage, there is what they are doing from a networking, server as well as general support standpoint with iSCSI, SAS (via their servers), FC, FCoE and NAS, not to mention they bought the InfiniBand company Topspin a few years ago,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO Group.

MDS 9000 Family

The Cisco MDS 9000 series of multiprotocol storage networking switches and directors provides a combination of basic SAN connectivity and fabric-based SAN application intelligence.

MDS 9500 Series

The Cisco MDS 9500 represents the director-class SAN switches designed for deployment in large enterprise fabrics in the SAN core.

“The Cisco MDS 9500 Series addresses the stringent requirements of large data center storage environments — uncompromising high availability, security, scalability, ease of management and in-place upgrade to accommodate new technologies,” said Bob Nusbaum, a product manager at Cisco.

Sharing the same operating system and management interface as other Cisco data center switches, the MDS 9500 is available in 6-slot, 9-slot and 13-slot configurations, and it supports 1-, 2-, 4-, 8-, and 10-Gbps Fibre Channel, as well as 10-Gbps Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

MDS 9200 Series

Nusbaum characterizes the Cisco MDS 9200 Series Multilayer Switches as the “Swiss Army knife” of the MDS family. The base hardware combines Fibre Channel (FC) and Ethernet ports for iSCSI and SAN Extension over IP. In addition, it has a slot that can accept an MDS-9500-compatible module to support additional switching ports or application capacity.

“The Cisco MDS 9222i is an ideal solution for departmental and remote branch-office SANs,” said Nusbaum.

Using an expansion slot, the MDS 9222i can scale up to a 66-port FC switch when used in conjunction with the Cisco MDS 9000 4/44-Port 8-Gbps Host-Optimized Fibre Channel Switching Module. Alternatively, it can host and accelerate up to four additional storage applications, such as network-assisted data protection, data migration and storage media encryption. This is accomplished via the Cisco MDS 9000 Family 16-port Storage ServicesNode.

MDS 9100 Series

Cisco MDS 9100 Series Multilayer Fabric Switches are aimed at SMBs. The MDS 9148, for example, offers the most line-rate 8-Gbps ports in a one-rack-unit (1 RU) form factor, claimed Nusbaum.

The entry-level MDS 9124 offers up to 24 4/2/1-Gbps auto-sensing FC ports in 1RU. This is best suited for small SANs with moderate performance loads.

This series is also available as blades that fit inside IBM and HP blade chassis.

“Cisco MDS 9100 Series Multilayer Fabric Switches can be deployed stand-alone in small fabrics or top-of-rack in larger data centers,” said Nusbaum. “They’re cost-effective and flexible but have the same features and management capabilities as the larger MDS models.”

Cisco Nexus Family

The Nexus family has two main line: the 7000 and the 5000 Series.

Cisco Nexus 7000 Series

Nexus 7000 switches comprise a modular product line designed for 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks that scale beyond 15 terabits per second (Tbps). This series is intended for mission-critical data centers. It is based on the same NX-OS operating system as the MDS 9000 family, with added features for better manageability and serviceability. It can serve as a platform for FCoE, iSCSI, and NAS protocols.

Cisco Nexus 5000 Series Switches

Nexus 5000 Series Switches are access-layer switches for in-rack deployment. They are designed to operate as server access layer and smaller-scale midmarket data center aggregation layer deployments. They support I/O consolidation to reduce the number of adapters, cables, switches and transceivers that each server must support.

IEEE Data Center Bridging technology is included in this series. This provides flow control and network congestion management. In addition, this switch family supports end-port virtualization and virtual machine optimized services. This increases the scalability of virtual Layer 2 networks and enhances application performance and security.

Management Smarts

This Unified Fabric concept is really all about making storage switches smarter and simpler. This is assisted materially by Cisco Data Center Network Manager (DCNM). The management software provides life cycle management of data center LAN and SAN.

A converged DCNM-run platform increases overall data center infrastructure uptime and reliability by more efficiently dealing with the routing, switching, and storage administration needs of virtualized data centers. Features such as VMpath provide topology views. Other features of DCNM streamline provisioning of the unified fabric and proactively monitor LAN and SAN components.

“Offering an exceptional level of visibility and control through a single management pane for the Cisco Nexus, Cisco Unified Computing System and Cisco MDS 9000 Family products, Cisco DCNM is the recommended solution for managing mission-critical data centers,” said Andrew Levin, DCNM Product Manager at Cisco.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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